Last week was exciting and I consider it, without a doubt, the highlight of my time in Sierra Leone so far.
A colleague and I traveled up north to Kabala, a small rural town about 185 miles northeast of Freetown in the Koinadugu District. It was a different planet from Freetown’s hectic and overcrowded lifestyle. Much of the community’s economy relies heavily on agriculture. The main part of town lies in a valley surrounded by gorgeous and verdant hills that loom over like kindly guardsmen. The traffic is minimal and does not come close to Freetown’s chaos. It was the cleanest air in Sierra Leone I breathed in and I was grateful for every minute of it.
The people we met were kind and extremely impoverished. Yet, they carried an attitude of perseverance in them that I greatly admire. Many of Kabala’s residents spend hours laboring in fields of corn, rice and cabbage. Some do it for as little as Le 5,000 a day and some are not paid at all; their payback is typically the crops they helped to cultivate.
The laborers we spoke to were not in denial about the difficulty of their lives. One woman who was working in a muddy rice swamp in her bare feet made it clear this was not her ideal life. She wanted her kids to go to school and didn’t wish this kind of life on them, though it was likely they would be following in her footsteps. Despite her difficulties, she did not spend her days wallowing in misery. Her kind and motherly smile welcomed us into her world for the brief time we spoke with her. When my colleague and I were preparing to leave, my boots had gotten caked with mud from trekking through the same rice swamp she was working in. She had one of the other field workers pour water over my boots to clean them off before I left. This woman was working completely barefoot. I was touched.
I was also touched by the people at the Lamtech Guest house, the place that my colleague and I stayed at in Kabala. My room was impeccably clean. We had electricity for a whopping 10 to 12 hours, which is red carpet treatment compared to the typical five hours I get at my hostel. It was my first time having to deal with well water. Normally, I would have yanked my hair out at the absence of running water after all, I did throw a major tantrum when the Guma pipeline broke a couple weeks ago and I hadn’t bathed in over a day – but Lamtech’s staff made sure we were regularly supplied with buckets of water and were attentive to all our needs.
Many of the workers were small children, which I know is ubiquitous in this country. Yet, I couldn’t help but be unnerved to have a boy, who couldn’t have been older than 10, yanking up a carton of well water for me when I’m quite certain I was physically capable of doing it on my own. At least I could selfishly comfort myself by carrying my two buckets to my room on my own.
By far, the best part about Kabala was traveling to remote farms by Okada. The farms were hidden deep within the forested hills and under any other circumstances, Okadas should not have been traveling through this kind of terrain. I am still in awe that we did not get into a terrible accident. There were points when the Okada just couldn’t continue, so my colleague and I would have to hike through rough and bushy terrain, with little semblance of trails guiding our path. All this trouble just to interview a nearly unreachable farmer. Despite how tired and filthy I got, I don’t regret a minute of it.
Kabala has such fertile land that is ideal for farming, yet they cannot capitalize off that. The city is filled with untapped potential, but many community members we spoke with said they could not export crops due to the poor condition of the roads leading in and out of the city. It’s as if the people are sitting on a pile of cash that they are unable to spend. I have said before that so many parts of Sierra Leone deserve so much more than what they have, but that has never applied more to any other place than Kabala.
We stayed in Kabala for two days. They were, by far, two of my best days during my time in Sierra Leone so far.